The tours are over, but the festivities have just begun
In a London theater, Scandinavian surf movie director Inge Wegge received a 200-person standing ovation for his movie North of the Sun. In a basement pingpong bar in Brooklyn, Taylor Steele clinks Coronas and collects feedback from fans after an early, unfinished screening of his latest travel epic, This Time Tomorrow. And on the beaches of Bali, traveling surfers are so inspired by Keith Malloy’s bodysurfing film, Come Hell or High Water, they storm straight into the warm waters of Kuta Beach to grab a few night-tunnels in the light of the second feature. These are the moments festivals are made of. It starts with the films, but they’re just the excuse.
That’s why surf film festivals are suddenly everywhere. More festivals than films, in fact, and in the unlikeliest of places. Hamburg. New York City. Tel Aviv. Rapa Nui. These are the good ones. And why not? The business model is simple. Filmmakers submit free content for publicity; theaters split profits on tickets (and rake in the popcorn profits); and sponsors pony up for big billing and ad-space. But ask any promoter — run ragged and swallowed alive by what once seemed like a simple idea – and you’ll learn quickly that festivals are not about the money.
Once upon a time, filmmakers packed their reels and drove the coast from town to town rallying our scattered tribes to the hearth of these liquid images they’d lovingly hunted. People hooted. People hollered. They threw bottles at the screen and bonded over this absurd passion we hold self-evident. They were story times.
But the Internet murdered the whole notion of touring a surf film. The model no longer made cents. And our kooky tribes became more dialed in and much less connected. Surf film festivals emerged to fill the void. A cultural imperative meant to bring us back together. A forum for filmmakers, artists, musicians, groupies and random salts to gather round the flames of this life-swallowing madness. Chasing ghostly waves. Documenting ethereal moments. Devoting our lives like salty monks to ocean ghosts. If any of this were about money, we’d all be wearing ties and standing in line somewhere.
Are you standing in line somewhere? Are you wearing a tie?
The Rapa Nui festival ends with an epic full moon drum circle. In Florianopolis they slaughter a cow. In Santiago they set a bull free in the crowd. In Canada, it’s a grizzly bear. People hoot. People holler. Someone throws a bottle at the screen. It’s different than hurling hate on the Internet. Here it actually matters. The festivals are human. They are spark plugs. And they’re just getting started. —Nathan Myers